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Posts published in April 2013

Time for a Senate coup

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

The pros will tell you there are many “reasons” for the cowardly political end of that most minimal gun legislation in the Senate this week. They’re right. As far as they go. But none I’ve seen go far enough. So, let’s take the next step. Four words. Harry Reid – Senate Democrats.

Red state/blue state – the NRA – re-election fears – guaranteed defeat in the House of anything the Senate had the guts to pass – the most common “reasons” offered in the bars on Capital Hill. Excuses all. If you wanted to paint a verbal picture, those are the word “colors” I’d use, too. But the “artist” behind that portrait would be – Harry Reid.

Reid has repeatedly failed to lead. It’s Majority Leader Reid that sets the agenda and the ultimate legislative agenda of the U.S. Senate. Short of a very rare open majority vote to force a particular bill from committee, Reid controls nearly everything else. Support him, you live. Cross him, you might as well go home. He’s not the first with such power. He won’t be the last.

So saying, Senate Democrats – all of ‘em – should have forced their leader to use his sizeable parliamentary power to end the filibuster in the first days of the new Congress in January. They did not. He did not. Rather, Reid said he had a “handshake agreement” with Minority Leader McConnell that Republicans would be “responsible” in their use of the legislative poison pill. Well, here we are three months later and we know what McConnell’s word was worth.

Whenever someone talks about ending the filibuster, there’s always one response: “But if we do that while we’re in the majority, we won’t have it for protection when we’re in the minority someday.” While true, it’s also pure B.S. Majorities and minorities are what national elections are for. Neither party – neither – should have continuously assured status in either. It’s gotta be earned. Legislatively.

Since President Obama was elected in 2008 – from day one – McConnell and his minions repeatedly said they’d do nothing to help Obama succeed. In anything. Indeed, McConnell couldn’t have been more plain spoken. “Our goal (the GOP) is to make him a one-term President.” So which McConnell do we believe? The “one term President” guy or the other one who shook hands? One’s a liar.

Still, the 2008 and the 2012 elections not only put Obama in office and renewed his contract, they also gave Democrats the Senate majority. We – you and me – we decided the matter. It was our vote – our instruction – to give Democrats majority status to do what we expected a majority party to do – what all of ‘em said they’d do.

That’s how you get to be a Senate majority. We do it! You and me. That’s how you get to be a Senate minority. We do it! And we did it. Our instructions were not to turn a majority party into a minority, then use parliamentary maneuvers to undercut the new majority. The one we created. The one we wanted. Our votes – yours and mine – have been negated by an irresponsible minority from day one. Because Reid would not lead. (more…)

One of the best

peterson MARTIN
PETERSON
 

One of the great traditions of the Idaho Legislature is the day they set aside each session to memorialize former members who passed away during the previous year. With the relatively high turnover of members, most of those who are memorialized are unknown to the current members. But it is a time for the departed former members to have one last day in the legislative sun. Families of those being memorialized are invited to sit in the visitors’ gallery while one of the current members recalls the years of service and accomplishments of the former member.

And, in those instances where the legislator doing the memorial actually knew the deceased, there are anecdotes, often humorous, about the individual.

I have always felt it unfortunate that once a person leaves the Legislature they are usually so quickly forgotten. But, with the exception of the highest ranking elected officials, such as governors and U.S. senators, once you leave office, all of the effort you made and your occasional accomplishments, no matter how significant, are forgotten. Well, the accomplishments may well be remembered, but not the fact that you were responsible for them. The same is even more true with elected local officials with cities, counties and school districts.

All of this brings to mind the passing, forty years ago this week, of one of Idaho’s most dedicated public officials, Edward V. Williams. For many who recall the name, it will most likely be associated with the Edward V. Williams Conference Center at Lewis Clark State College. For those who don’t recall Ed and his many years of dedicated service to the people of Lewiston and the state of Idaho, let me take this opportunity to bring him back, even if briefly, into the public spotlight.

I first met Ed Williams in April 1960. I was a seventeen year old junior at Clarkston High School and had received my parents’ approval to join the Idaho National Guard. Ed Williams, or Captain Ed, as he was known in the Guard, was battery commander of Headquarters Battery of the 148th Field Artillery. The night I joined the National Guard, he administered the oath. It was the beginning of a great friendship.

Ed was also an educator with the Lewiston School District and was extremely dedicated to his profession. Between his activities with students, teachers and administrators, and his service with the National Guard, he was a well-known and highly respected member of the community.

So much so that in 1963 he was elected to the Idaho House of Representatives. Ed was a popular legislator and was elected House Minority Leader by his Democratic colleagues. This is the same position that nearly fifty years later is now occupied by Rep. John Rusche of Lewiston. (more…)

First take: A gov candidate

news

A GOV CANDIDATE With the presumption that Oregon Democratic Governor John Kitzhaber will be seeking re-election next year, and the high improbability of serious primary opposition, the question has been floating in the air for a while: Who's his Republican opponent? Well, one has surfaced: Jon Justesen, a rancher from small Sherman County whose political experience consists of losing a county commission race there. He's first in, but don't expect he'll be the last: He's pro-choice and pro-immigrant and pro-sales tax. This may be an indicator, though, of how difficult Republicans will find corralling a truly credible challenger.

Real ed reform

carlson CHRIS
CARLSON

 
Carlson
Chronicles

Every so often my publisher walks up to me with a challenge to get beyond blanket criticisms and propose constructive alternatives that will help resolve a contested matter. So it was with the so-called Luna Laws, all of which were criticized harshly by many writers as well as me.

As the son of two public school teachers, I have some opinions but by no means am I claiming to be an expert on educational reform.

The following reflects the Ten Carlson Rules for producing better Students:

Rule #1) Instill a writing discipline, starting in the 1st Grade. A student should have to write something each day. First graders have to write a sentence; sixth graders a paragraph; seventh and above a page a day.
a. Write, write, write----there is no substitute.
b. Keep a daily diary.
c. Write complete sentences---no short cuts!

Rule #2) No cell phones, ipads, etc. should be permitted during the school day. It’s not just that they facilitate distracting behavior; it’s that they encourage the use of texting, which with all its abbreviations is going to be
the death of the English language yet. All parents should examine their kids text messages and odds are they will need an interpretation or a “texting” dictionary. The phones should be surrendered at the door of the school and returned at the end of the day.

Rule #3) From the 7th Grade on students should be part of a teacher’s evaluation. Students have a fair idea which teachers care and which are really teaching. Conversely, the proposed Luna law requirement that parents be part of the evaluation process should be dropped. Far too many parents
either don’t care or simply don’t have the time. To make them a mandatory part of a teacher’s evaluation would be counter-productive in many cases.

Rule #4) Better define the Core Body of Knowledge. As the nation shifts to more and more national standardized testing, in fairness to the student as well as parents wishing to help, the education establishment has to reach a consensus on what constitutes the Core that has to be mastered. (more…)

Contradictions

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

If pressed for the most apt definition of the word “contradiction,” there’s no better one in our times than the Republican far right. What passes for philosophy with too many denizens of that political swamp is espousing one set of ideals while working feverishly against them – wrapping oneself in the law and our founding documents while deliberately attacking both.

For many years, the clearest example of these philosophical cheap shots have been ceaseless attacks on women and the extremely personal topic of abortion. While decrying the intrusion of all forms of government in our private lives, these same voices have demanded an agency of government be represented in gynecological examining rooms where only physicians and their patients belong. To be in the home as a family struggles with intimate – and completely private – decisions. The total contrariness of that position is a hallmark of the far right.

Likewise, voting rights. The assurance of the individual franchise – guaranteed since our beginnings – has become another example of complete contradiction with a sizeable portion of the Republican right. More than a dozen states under GOP political control have tried to legislatively abridge voting access for all but themselves. Some have done so with new laws sure to be challenged. Several bills have even been introduced in Congress to do the same. While loudly proclaiming the polling privilege as “the cornerstone of our liberties,” some of the same voices have been attempting to exclude Americans who don’t “think” as they do. Or have a different skin color.

Now comes religion – the newest outright challenge to a most basic right granted to all of us in the Bill of Rights. The prohibition can’t be clearer:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”

In North Carolina – where Republicans control the legislature – one of their number dropped a bill in the House basket to “establish Christianity as the state religion.” While a number of Republicans signed on as co-sponsors, the Speaker of the House stopped formal introduction. This time.

So, were these GOPers just a few nuts? Will we see similar attempts elsewhere? Is there a constituency for this abortive – and patently illegal – challenge to our Bill of Rights? One answer may surprise you. A new national HuffingtonPost/YouGov poll found 34% sampled favored establishing Christianity as the official state religion where they lived. Among those who called themselves Republican, the total was 55%. More than half! In another finding, 46% of Republicans supported officially changing our federal Constitution to allow it. (more…)

Idaho 100: Now in Kindle

Idaho 100

Idaho 100: The people who most influenced the Gem State, published in print last fall, is now available in the Kindle e-book format (via Amazon.com).

The 100 entries (and the other parts of the book) are a particularly good match for an electronic reader, read in pieces at a time. Even if you already have a print copy, you'll want the e-book too for more mobile reading options.

Keep watch for some more Idaho 100 news in the coming weeks.

A tale of two budgets

trahant MARK
TRAHANT

 
Austerity

President Barack Obama’s budget request for 2014 does not roll back austerity. But it would significantly shift resources, adding money to important programs, and protecting much of Indian Country from government contraction.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs budget request is $2.6 billion, an increase of $31.3 million over what Congress enacted in 2012.

“The president’s budget request for Indian Affairs reflects his firm commitment to keeping our focus on strengthening and supporting tribal nations, and protecting Indian Country,” Kevin K. Washburn, assistant secretary for Indian Affairs reported last week. “While realizing the benefits from improvements to Indian Affairs program management, the request supports our mission to federally recognized tribes, particularly in the areas of trust lands and natural resource protection. The request also promotes economic development, improves education, and strengthens law enforcement and justice administration.”

There’s a lot to like in this year’s budget request. There would be additional money for law enforcement, police, courts, and expanded domestic violence services. There would more money for trust management and real estate. And, most important, there would be additional investments in the Bureau of Indian Education (such as a $3 million scholarship fund for post-graduate education in sciences).

To my way of thinking this budget does not represent what kind of education funding is needed. Indian Country represents a young population that I think should be an essential part of balancing the country’s demographics (basically the retirement of the baby boom generation plus a longer life expectancy). But that’s a bigger issue than this budget request. (A good detailed example of this is in The Washington Post’s wonkblog where Ezra Klein writes that the federal government spends $7 on the elderly for every $1 spend on kids.)

The funding picture is similar at the Indian Health Service, basically, a request for more, even if not enough. The president’s budget calls for $4.430 billion in direct spending, and a total increase of $243.6 million over what Congress enacted in 2012. “The request includes funds to support activities identified by the tribes as budget priorities including increasing resources for pay costs, funding medical inflationary costs for the Purchased/Referred Care program (formerly known as Contract Health Services); funding contract support costs shortfall; and staffing for new/replacement facilities,” according to the budget request to Congress.

It wasn’t all that many years ago that the president’s budget request for IHS was just the beginning of the process. The appropriations committees in the House and Senate would look at the numbers, match it to the need, and in many cases find more money to spend. If it were up to the subcommittee chairs that would still happen. The legislators who are nearest the actually programs and what they do understand the challenge and look for improvements. (more…)

Even in Holbrook

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
The Idaho
Column

If the poet John Donne and the novelist Ernest Hemingway were right, that “no man is an island,” that we should “send not to know/For whom the bell tolls/It tolls for thee,” then we all are damaged by the carnage at Holbrook.

The case has gotten some attention, but so horrific is it that national viral status would almost be expected. It was a case of terror on so many levels.

In Holbrook.

Probably not many Idahoans easily could place Holbrook on a map. It is located about 10 miles west of Malad, in high open field country surrounded by mountains, country well away from population centers. I have driven through it a few times, but never had occasion to stop, partly because there was nothing to stop for, no visible commercial or public activity. It once was a true small town, but not an incorporated city, something places with as few as a dozen people have founded, and for decades has been more a clustering of houses. Population for the area is reported as 400; if you drive through, you may suspect that seems high.

Such places may be remote from metro areas, but the people there are not remote from each other. This isn't a matter of the vaunted small-town snoopiness, but the reality that with fewer people around, with fewer activities and distractions and less traffic, you see what goes on around you.

That's part of what makes the events there so disturbing.

The people who lived at the crime scene were not entirely distant from their community. On March 31, law enforcement officials said, the people in the house that became a crime scene hosted an Easter party. (As of last week, investigators were seeking out anyone who attended.) They might have seen something reportable.

There was plenty to see. A big pack of dogs was housed there – 64 pit pulls were found there about a week ago, with clear indications that at least many of them were being used for dog fighting. That activity, thanks to a recent change in Idaho law, is now a felony, and the reasons for that are not just because of the horrific effects on the dogs: It is often a good indicator that something has gone deeply wrong with the people involved, too. That was outside the house. Inside, investigators found 38 marijuana plants and enough cash to indicate significant trafficking was underway, another indicator of trouble. (more…)

Wherefore art thou, Mr. Chief Justice

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

As the U.S. Supreme Court wrestles with issues of our sexual differences and their standing in our society, I’m less worried about the ultimate decisions than I am about the connection of the Chief Justice to reality.

There can be little argument DOMA (Defense Of Marriage Act) became a law because of prejudice and bigotry. It was largely born of a narrow belief held by a religious minority which has previously sponsored similar “moral” legislation. Enactment of the California law known as “Prop 8″ came from the same despoiled garden of fear and hatred – and $28 million from the LDS Church. But remarks made by Chief Justice Roberts from the bench during arguments on the two issues seemed to reflect his mental world is one in which no law is created from any soiled motivations.

During general questioning of the DOMA case, Roberts seemed to reject the proposition that Congress could be motivated to create a law – any law – out of discrimination or animus. In fact, during discussion, he and some other Justices appeared ignorant of the roots of DOMA – until Justice Kagan read this part of the law aloud to Solicitor General Verrilli during her questioning.

“Civil laws that permit only heterosexual marriage reflect and honor a collective moral judgment about human sexuality. This judgment entails both moral disapproval of homosexuality, and a moral conviction that heterosexuality better comports with traditional (especially Judeo-Christian) morality.”

There were gasps in the room,. Then, from the Congressional Record dealing with the committee creation of DOMA, Kagan again quoted:

“…the Committee briefly discusses four of the governmental interests advanced by this legislation: (1) defending and nurturing the institution of traditional, heterosexual marriage; (2) defending traditional notions of morality.”

BOOM! Then silence in the court. After brief subsequent give-and-take between Kagan and Verrilli, Roberts simply said “Thank you” and matters moved on while other Justices wrote lengthy notes to themselves – apparently about what they’d just heard. But not Roberts.

Editor’s Note: Why did so many Justices seem surprised by what Kagan read? Had their law clerks not read all the briefs and summarized for the Court? Didn’t the Justices at least read the law before hearing arguments? Why the hurried note-taking?

Roberts’ personal and judicial history are spotless. There is no doubt of his moral and professional character. But – there is ample evidence of his seeming real world ignorance that less-than-honorable intentions can create bad law. In one case – PICS vs. Seattle School District No. 1 – he wrote “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.” He basically dismissed the need for judicial action in the face of demonstrated outright discrimination. His side lost. (more…)